Throw Your Hands Up and Your Heads Back: A PEZ Retrospective

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Everyone has owned a PEZ dispenser at some time in their life.

Kids love candy and kids love toys. What better product to hit that core demographic than a candy dispenser that looks like a toy? Enter PEZ. Or rather, enter PEZ decades ago. After a bit of research, I have determined that PEZ is, and always was, awesome. What better place to talk about the toy candy dispenser than here at Toy-TMA? Grab your preferred PEZ flavor housed in your favorite cartoon character’s head and let’s get started.

A Delicious and Efficient History

As with all good articles (more or less), we should start with the basics and the history of PEZ. PEZ can trace its origins back to Austria in 1927. Yeah, that’s right, PEZ wasn’t even an American thing at all. In fact, PEZ gets its name from the German word for “peppermint,” Pfefferminz. The creator, a confectioner named Eduard Haas III, derived the name from the first, middle, and last letter of Pfefferminz, creating the strange yet wonderful word PEZ, usually spelled in all caps as I’ve been doing, so deal with it.

Although it’s difficult to imagine, PEZ didn’t always come in the dispensers we’ve come to know and love. PEZ first came packaged in small tins, similar to Altoids. Eventually the “regulars” type dispenser was created to look like a small cigarette lighter. The reason for this was because PEZ were marketed as an alternative to smoking. Add that to another reason why PEZ are great for kids.

I swear, these are for kids...I think. Was I talking about candy?

PEZ wouldn’t make it to the United States until 1952, and it still wasn’t until 1955 when someone got the idea to place heads on the top of the dispensers. As it turns out, PEZ had been marketed mostly to adults until then, but the shift towards the character heads placed the core demographic at children, as well as collectors. Pretty standard heads first appeared, such as Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus, but over the years more popular cartoons and icons have been ported over the candy dispensers.

Collecting Candy for a Living

That’s why you still remember what PEZ is today, though please note, PEZ inc still considers itself a confectionery company rather than a toy company. This, of course, hasn’t stopped collectors from paying exorbitant amounts of money for what amounts to a candy holder shaped like Bugs Bunny’s head. The highest price anyone’s ever paid for an official PEZ dispenser is $7,000 for a Mickey Mouse softhead model, apparently a factory prototype never released to the public. That’s $7,000. That’s a whole lotta candy tablets right there.

I wonder how much Seinfeld's PEZ dispenser went for...?

But do be careful in your quest to collect every and all PEZ dispenser. Because of the value and rarity of some dispensers, fakes have popped up everywhere. One guy paid $11,000 for what PEZ experts (don’t ask me who they are) later proved via chemical testing was a really, really well made fake. That’s the point I draw the line with collecting. Also, where do you get experts like this? Not a single science teacher I ever had mentioned that there was a career in PEZ as long as I kept my grades up.

Quick question: Who were the first people to be turned into PEZ dispenser heads? For the longest time, PEZ had a rule that they’d never make a character head based off of a real person’s features. That’s why the first three were Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone, and Paul Revere, mostly because their character heads probably didn’t look anything like them but just had accessories that let you know who they were. That was in the 1970’s, but in 2006 the Teutul family from Orange County Choppers where made as the first PEZ dispensers to be crafted after the likenesses of real people. Elvis would soon follow the next year, then the cast of Star Trek in 2008 and the cast of The Wizard of Oz in 2009. I don’t know who’s getting the PEZ treatment this year, but it could very well be the cast of Lost, if my intuitions are correct.

Guess which set I think are awesome?

The of moral of the story is, PEZ is great. Simplistic, yes, but very true. Plus, and PEZ will be happy to hear this, the candy is delicious as well. Heck, as a kid I’d routinely forgo loading the cartridge, choosing instead to just nosh on the whole pack at once. Who was gonna stop me? My parents? “Hey, at least I’m not smoking,” I’d say. And I still haven’t smoked to this very day. Thank you, PEZ.

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

3 Comments

  1. -THE CAT FROM THE DEAD- on

    Thanks! I’m doing a research paper in my class and this helped =)
    I love PEZ but I don’t buy them often.

  2. D-Dawg frm scotland on

    I love pez!!! I forgot about hem completely untill a few days ago and i bought one with tht dog frm toystorys head on it theyr awesome!

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